AP saves money for families, but what about taxpayers?
In Advanced Placement Nation, that version of America populated by high school students taking college-level AP courses and tests, Florida covers a huge portion of the map. The St. Petersburg Times points out the state is number one in the percentage of graduating seniors taking AP tests and number five in the percentage of seniors passing them.
So, Times reporter Ron Matus reveals, the newspaper decided to see if Florida was getting its money's worth for paying its students' AP testing fees, something only two other states do. The Times analysis concluded that the program was saving college families tens of millions of dollars they don't have to pay for college courses that AP exempts their students from taking. Whether taxpayers are also saving money is more difficult to determine, Matus said.
"Florida students passed 114,430 AP tests this year," Matus wrote, "up from 66,511 five years ago. Even assuming a fair chunk of those tests won't translate into credits, the Times estimates Florida families will save at least $40 million in tuition and fees."
"The savings from AP to taxpayers is murkier," he wrote. "It's not clear whether the program, which cost the state $58 million last year, is paying for itself. A full return-on-investment analysis has never been done."
In my frequent columns, and three books, about AP and the similar International Baccalaureate program, I have not emphasized the financial benefits of getting college credit for the courses taken in high school. If families and taxpayers did not save a dime, I would still argue that the courses and tests are invaluable because they energize high school teaching and learning and prepare students for the academic demands of college. The full fee (low-income students get a cut rate) for an AP test is $86, less than a fashionable pair of sneakers and well worth the expense in the view of many educators.
Florida Education Commissioner Eric J. Smith is at least as big a cheerleader for AP as I am, having built AP and IB programs in a succession of large school districts. But Florida was already one of the nation's leading funders of AP when Smith arrived in 2007. He has been dealing with a debate in the state legislature over whether the college-level programs are worth their cost. Matus said the legislature cut some funding in 2008 but in 2009 declined to make more cuts after supporters of the programs objected.
Matus said his newspaper's analysis found that college credits earned by this year's AP test passers "will potentially save another $30 million for taxpayers," beyond the $40 million it saved college families. "But it's hard to gauge how real those savings are," he wrote.
At Florida State University this year, a majority of incoming student had nearly enough AP credits to exempt a full semester. At the University of Florida, many students had enough to exempt two semesters. Thanks to AP, those universities don't have to offer as many basic courses, such as freshman English. But they may have to offer more junior- and senior-level courses, which cost more.
FSU and UF officials said it's unclear whether students who pass AP classes earn degrees faster. But anecdotally, there's an explosion in the number of students there graduating with double majors.
Parents like Brian and Teresa Keefer of Tampa are among those benefiting from AP credits.
Their oldest daughter did well enough in AP classes to earn nine college credits at the University of Central Florida — enough to bypass summer class requirements and all the expenses of living on campus over the summer.
The Keefers' youngest daughter also is taking AP classes to help make her more competitive for college admissions. But with Brian Keefer, an insurance executive, out of work for 18 months, the money matters, too.
AP is "a very good deal," Teresa Keefer said.
Jack Gillum and Greg Toppo of USA Today point out that the number of AP tests taken last year, 2.9 million, was 160 percent higher than the total in 1999. They calculated that the portion of students getting failing grades of 1 or 2 on the 5-point AP exams has also increased in that period from 36.5 percent to 41.5 percent.
The number of students passing AP tests, and getting college credit for them, has also increased significantly. One study indicates that even students who receive only 2s on AP exams do better in college than students who do not try AP.
There is more to learn about where AP, IB and Cambridge are going, and what effect they are having on schools and students. I hear from readers who say it is terrible that so many students are failing the AP tests, but I have talked to some of those so-called failures and they say their struggle with AP helped prepare them for college.
If anyone knows of failing AP students who have a different story, urge them to write me at email@example.com.
| November 3, 2010; 12:24 PM ET
Categories: Jay on the Web | Tags: Advanced Placement, Florida families save because of AP courses and tests, Florida taxpayers may also benefit, Ron Matus, St. Petersburg Times investigation, but analysis has not been done
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